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Today we highlight SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele, who returns for the second straight year as host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals airing on ESPN and ESPN3.com Wednesday and Thursday. She reveals her thoughts on her childhood spelling prowess, most memorable ESPN moments, and working with her brother in the same TV market.
Twitter handle: @sagesteele
ESPN Job: Sportscenter anchor; Scripps National Spelling Bee, host
Following: 166* (as of 5/31/11)
FR: You are co-host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. What has been the strangest technique you’ve seen one of the participants use to spell a word?
Steele: I personally like it when the kids “air spell.” You know, using their first finger to “write out” the words in the air. Several use that technique, so I guess it’s not that unique, but I’m always amused by it.
FR: On the same topic, are you amazed by how well kids can spell? Did you enter or win any spelling bees as a kid?
Steele: These kids are brilliant, and so dedicated. I think back to my impressive run as third-grade spelling bee champion when I lived in Belgium and would like to think that I could truly challenge these kids. But then reality sets in. Sadly, rhythm is the word that sank me in the fourth-grade title run.
FR: Who is your favorite person to follow on Twitter?
Steele: @realskipbayless I love that he just says whatever the heck is on his mind.
FR: You are an Indiana University alum. How did it feel the first day you worked with Bobby Knight at ESPN?
Steele: I’ve actually never worked with coach Knight since he was hired here at ESPN, but I would love to. For all of his antics over the years, I am a huge fan of Bob Knight the coach. And yes, I would let my son play for Bobby Knight (the question I always get), 99.9 percent of his former players love him and would do anything for him. I think that says a lot about who he is behind closed doors.
FR: The SportsCenter crew surprised you on Mother’s Day by bringing your children on set. What were your initial thoughts when you saw your children?
Steele: I thought it was pretty obvious for those who saw it happen live that I was completely and utterly shocked to see them. I was mad at myself for forgetting to request the day off and was counting the minutes until I could leave and be with them. It was shocking and confusing to see all three of my kids on TV, and to have all three of them walk onto the set was overwhelming. Tough to hide my emotions at that moment. My family is my pride and joy, and although it was a surprise, afterwards I was happy that some people got to see the “real” me.
FR: You are not the only person in your family who works In the sports industry. How did it feel working with your brother in the same TV market?
Steele: It was awesome working alongside my little brother [Chad Steele, Baltimore Ravens director of media relations], but also very challenging. I was a beat reporter for the Baltimore Ravens on Comcast SportsNet for a year before the team hired Chad as the director of media relations. We were both concerned about the possible perceptions by our peers, but we also knew that neither one of us would have been in our respective positions unless we were worthy of doing our jobs. It was tough to admit initially, but my little bro is pretty good at his job! I didn’t always agree with his decisions, and he didn’t always agree with the way I covered the team, but we had a mutual, professional respect for each other. It was wonderful to see him in a different light, rather than just being my annoying little brother. He has been a part of two NFL franchises for over a decade now, and the Ravens’ PR staff is the recent winner of the Pete Rozelle Award for being the best PR staff in the NFL. I would not be more proud of him and the way way he does his job.
FR: In your four-plus years here, what has been your most memorable ESPN moment? Who were you the most intrigued about interviewing?
Steele: I think my favorite moment was when my children surprised me on live TV on Mother’s Day. I was most intrigued with interviewing [noted columnist] George Will — with three minutes notice — the day Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died. George Will is absolutely brilliant and his knowledge — about baseball in particular — is fascinating to me. I admit, I was extra nervous interviewing someone that smart.
ESPN will present live coverage of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee Finals from Washington, D.C., beginning with the preliminary rounds Wednesday, June 1, at 8 a.m. ET, on ESPN3.com, through the semifinals and finals Thursday, June 2, on ESPN and ESPN3.com.